Stop and think about this: on April 10, Jeffrey Rosen, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be Deputy Attorney General, refused to answer this simple question in his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing: “Was Brown v. Board of Education correctly decided?”
The landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision ruled that “separate but equal” racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. The ruling is foundational to providing fairness and a level playing field for kids to potentially achieve success through the public education system. But while it’s shocking that the Trump nominee sloughs off its importance, schools kids are actually facing another kind of segregation based on money.
Jackie Goldberg is taking on that fight. The longtime out activist educator is running in a special May 14 runoff election for a seat on the Los Angeles Unified District School Board. She faces former public works commissioner Heather Repenning, who has the backing of LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and SEIU Local 99, non-teaching LAUSD employees.
Goldberg is supported by almost everyone else in the northeast and southeast LA district—including Echo Park, Silver Lake and Los Feliz—who fears that charter schools are decimating public education. Her supporters include the teachers union and HONOR PAC.
Goldberg finished just short of the necessary 50 percent margin in the March 5 election, winning 48 percent of the vote over nine other candidates. Repenning came in second with 13 percent of the vote. Much of Goldberg’s vote came through name recognition from her fame as a Free Speech Movement leader at Berkley to her two terms on the LAUSD School Board where she fought against Rev. Lou Sheldon and his
Traditional Values Coalition to keep Project 10, Dr. Virginia Uribe’s dropout prevention program for LGBT youth at Fairfax High School. She also pushed for sex education and condom distribution during the AIDS crisis. In 1993, she officially came out as she ran for LA City Council, where she served two terms before running for the California Assembly where she served as chair of the Education Committee and for three terms, fought against right-wing extremists on behalf of LGBT students and parents.
“I think public education’s actually in trouble and it makes me very nervous and very worried,” she says. “Education has been the focus, really, of my entire adult life. And I am trying very hard to do something to change things.”
Goldberg is concerned with how state legislators have ignored the crumbling school system.
“It is time for them to put money up for the schools again,” she says. “We’ve starved the schools since Proposition 13 – and they are starving – and when you starve a school system for years and years and years, what happens is that in increments, you lose everything,” including the once standard nurses and librarians in every school.
The systematic underfunding of schools since 1978 “has opened the door to these billionaire privatizers who want to use charter schools to get rid of public education – to literally end it – so you don’t have these pesky things like running for school board,” Goldberg says.
In these private schools funded by tax- payer dollars, self-appointed leaders “run everything; they make all the decisions. If you don’t like it – go somewhere else.”
The “privatizers,” Goldberg says, are trying to use the historically underfunded schools to illustrate that “public education doesn’t work. We’ve got to get rid of it. It’s time to privatize it. Put it in the market. Winners and losers – close the ones that lose.
“Well, no,” Goldberg says adamantly. “Public education is one of the few places left in America that says you’re all welcome. Everybody’s welcome. We don’t care what language you speak, what country you come from – we don’t even care if you’re here legally or not. We don’t care if you’re smart or dumb. We don’t care if you’re severely disabled or you have no disability at all and you’re gifted and talented. We don’t care. We’re going to try to do our best for you. But the point is – our best for you is not good enough as long as New York spends $2 dollars for every dollar we spend. That’s crazy.”
Eliminating public education is a direct threat to democracy since only the elite will get an education. “In all of history, there are no democracies that lasted without a strong public education system. None. That’s critical. That’s what got me to do this,” she says. “That and the fact that there are three board members out of seven that were elected with heavy amounts of charter money.”
Goldberg says she is determined not to allow a board majority that looks out only for about 20% of the kids in the school district.
This is particularly important for the LGBT community since the religious right have historically used school boards as political stepping stones and now have two champions in the White House.
“There are two big issues for our community,” Goldberg says. “One is how transgender kids are being treated. And the second is that while we have excellent rules and laws, in an individual day by day basis, a lot of them are not being carried out. And I don’t think it’s out of animosity. In some cases it is. But it’s just not in the forefront of people’s minds and I want to put it back in the forefront of their mind.”
The election is May 14 but absentee ballots are available April 15. With her substantial lead, the only way for Goldberg to lose is if people fail to vote.